Around the clock.
This past Friday (5/31/19) much of Montana woke up to smoky skies caused by huge wildfires in northern Alberta and a high pressure system centered just north of the border. Normally I like to see a big “H” on the weather map when I have a hike planned because high pressure usually brings calm, sunny conditions. However, air flows clockwise around a high – So with those Canadian fires at 12 o’clock and Montana at 6 o’clock, we were inundated by smoke from fires burning hundreds of miles away.

With fingers crossed.
With all the cold, rainy weather we endured in May, I’ve been chomping at the bit to get out and do something. So, despite the haze, a couple friends (Murray, Jeff) and I decided to go ahead with our one-night backpacking trip into the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness (GOM) north of Helena, with the goal of climbing Candle Mountain. The GOM is close to town, and you can actually see Candle Mountain from Helena, so the trip had a pleasant “back yard” feel to it. We left town at 4 pm Friday, drove 28 miles to the Hunter’s Gulch Trailhead, and started hiking at 4:50 pm. The three of us followed the trail for 5.1 miles to a meadow where we set up camp and ate dinner, then hit the sack – hoping the winds would change during the night, and the smoke would go bother someone else.

IMG_0199Above: View of Candle Mountain from Mt. Helena on one of our inversion days last winter.

Finding the good.
Saturday morning we left our tents (7:30 am) and followed the trail for 3 miles to Bear Prairie –  a big grassy meadow in the heart of the GOM. From there Jeff opted to go back and explore the ridge over-looking Meriwether Canyon while Murray and I went off-trail to climb Candle Mountain (1.5 miles one-way, steep!). We reached the summit at 10 am. Unfortunately, visibility was still limited, so we didn’t get the view we were hoping for. On the bright side, we were surrounded by pretty country, and were rewarded with a unique view of the entire GOM with its rugged canyons and steep gulches – a patchwork of forests, burned areas, and grassy meadows. Not a bad consolation prize, but I definitely want to go back and climb Candle again some day when the air is clear.

A hazy ending.
Murray and I enjoyed 30 minutes of calm, sunny summit time, then chose a more direct 1.1-mile route down to Bear Prairie where we picked up the trail and headed back to meet Jeff at the campsite (4.4 miles from summit to campsite). After packing up, the three of us followed the 5.1 miles of trail back to the Hunter’s Gulch Trailhead, reaching the car at 3 pm. From there it was an 8-mile drive to the York Bar for one of their famous burgers and a cold beverage. We all enjoyed the delicious “Hazy IPA” (Montana Brewing Company).

Below: This map marks hikes that have been featured on so far, including several in Glacier Park – Select full screen to expand, zoom in for more detail, or click on a marker for a link to the post.